|REALITY:     any awareness environment within which death is the ultimate universal|
An awareness appears to emerge incrementally
by means of a group of biological processes
unique to its specific creation.
Depending upon the complexity of those processes,
it builds an internal 'model' of its environment
by integrating sensory input
with archival memory reconstructions of perceptions and events
and any socially available or imposed information.
Reality is the idiosyncratic microcosm model
created by that awareness.
If such an awareness eventually acquires the ability or inclination
to speculate about generalizing their appreciation of this process,
then that is the only means
by which any sort of statement could be made
as to what the total existential 'reality' environment
of all awarenesses might be.
It may be worth suggesting
that there are at least two different interpretations
of the word 'reality'
that any awareness
should attempt to keep clearly distinguishable.
is the immediate operational idiosyncratic model
that the awareness has acquired
via perceptions and recollections
and the social organization structures
of libraries, electronic media and indoctrination systems.
is the hypothetical extrapolated universal model
of an existential matrix
that is constructed on the assumption
it is a verifiable external environment
that is common to,
and independent of,
each and every individual awareness.
The AWARENESS PHENOMENA
In the broadest and most generalized sense possible, various elemental aspects of the universe demonstrate a capacity to be 'aware' of other aspects in the sense that they react and behave in response to one another. Massive entities influences one another and move thru space and time continuously 'aware' of all the others to greater or lesser extents. Electrically charged entities are 'aware' of the influence other charges. Atoms are 'aware' of photons and behave in manners that reflect their capacity for each to be able to adjust their reactions according to the properties and states of the other. The universe seems to behave in a manner that suggests that its various components interact systematically and predictably by consistently being 'aware' of the potential capabilities and properties of other components.
In particular, all living things appear to be able to respond to stimuli, display some actions as independent entities, and so demonstrate an 'awareness' of their environment. Even at the relatively least complex end of the awareness spectrum, such entities as viruses have the ability, by virtue of molecular form and behavior, to be 'aware' of their environment and only react to those aspects that suit their evolved mode of behavior.
A self-awareness ...like you or me... does not just materialize from nothing, but is the culmination of processes outside our control. Consciousness of self is progressively manifested and associated intrinsically with a physical entity, by means of sensory feedback loops and archival memory analysis. If after some time spent exploring the domain of the newly emerged self, it wishes to indulge in the luxurious frivolity of metaphysical thinkings about 'the nature of the universe', we have to start with how things appear to have been presented to our awareness up to the newly emergent introspective stage of our life, and then speculate backwards as to how they might have arisen, and how credible and reliable the whole thought-edifice can be assumed to be. Conscious introspective conceptualizing about the nature and circumstances of our own awareness... referred to loosely sometimes as 'thinking philosophically'... is not a state of mind that is in evidence from birth, but only evolves incrementally (in some individuals) as they mature and experience diverse circumstances of living. By the time that anyone is in a position to reflect on their existential circumstances, they have acquired an entire operational world-model that has been constructed under the influence of processes that are for the most part, entirely beyond their voluntary control. Any attempts at 'philosophical thinking', is confronted with the difficult and perhaps impossible task of unpicking, unraveling, and reverse engineering the reality perspective we have progressively acquired and become familiar with.
The starting point for any introspections about reality, is that the self-awareness actually doing the introspecting cannot sensibly deny its own existence. An introspecting self-awareness automatically confirms its own existence and relevance in any process of formulating statements about the existential structure of reality. Reassurance about this Cartesian premise comes from the reflection that if a reader is contrarily inclined to suppose that his/her self-awareness does not confirm their own existence, then that rather implies that any opposition to the assumption does not exist either.
One hypothesis that sometimes occurs to the neophyte self-awareness... once they have reassured themselves about their own existence...is the issue of 'solipsism', whereby they suppose that their consciousness is in fact all that exists, and everything associated with it is a manifestation of self or perhaps the elaborate contrivance of an all powerful 'god'. Any continued adoption of this perspective often relies on the self-awareness being unproductively obsessed with the idea of 'knowing' a situation to be 'true' or not. The do not feel they 'know' for certain that entities other than themselves exist. But the supposition that all the trials and tribulations and initiatives that a solitary self-awareness experiences during the process of existing, is all somehow generated by the the entity doing the existing itself or an omnipotent deity , is more akin to a psychiatric condition than a resolvable introspection. What do they imagine was the situation before they were born? What do they think will happen when they die? The most pragmatic attitude is to accept the operational constraints and appearances of everyday existence as it presents, and participate with enthusiasm and skeptical inquiry, otherwise the pseudo-dilemma of solipsism simply renders the thinker impotent and irrelevant to themselves.
The manifestation of awareness is so formed that it structures its perceptions of existence into layers of simplifications that reveal successive complexifications if and when any investigation is undertaken.
In world of mundane participation, during a walk in the garden one is able to simplify the flood of sensory perceptions into discrete objects that we then label... tree... flower... insect... bird... sun...soil...etc... and so construct an immediate and operational 'model' of our horticultural environment. If we decide to focus our attention on any one of these elements, and attempt to discover more details about that entity, then we would be drawn immediately into a more complex sub-layer of morphology and growth patterns and life-cycles. Subsequent further probings would then uncover the complexification layers of biochemistry, genetics, chemistry and the space-time realm of particle physics.
It is an almost universal assumption underlying all forms of human symbolic expression... writing, painting, sculpture, mathematics, photography, etc... that it is possible to make some sort of sense of one's existential experiences, by creating an art-form that can be interpreted as a personal statement about 'reality'... the very nature and essence of existence itself. It seems difficult to deny however, that the art-forms of writing or speaking or signing, enjoy pre-eminent status as media that are best suited for many communication tasks undertaken within a literate populace.
In a traditional dialectical procedure, by which an attempt is made to resolve perceived existential problems and dilemmas by abstract verbal analysis, consider the implications of a self-awareness making the following statement...
'In all those situations where information needs to be transmitted widely and accurately and where unambiguous comprehension is the objective to be achieved... written, spoken or signed expression has the innate flexibility to be the most pragmatic and efficient form of communication.'
Now if anyone is inclined to disagree with this statement, then in order to present evidence for its falsity in a consistent and credible manner, they would be intellectually obliged to argue their objections in some other non-written, non-spoken or non-signed form or forms of expression... like using photographs, paintings, diagrams, sculptures, mathematics, quilting, weaving, etc. The difficulties in attempting that exercise, would seem to go a long way towards almost automatically confirming the aforesaid statement by default.
Many of us attempt to express ourselves about the intrinsic circumstances of our existence, by making use of word-symbols... like 'reality' and 'fantasy' for example... and assume that the concepts they purport to represent, are generally understood. Thus, if one was to participate in some sort of written or conversational exchange of ideas about 'reality', the assumption would be... at least at the outset... that it would be commonly understood by those participating in the exchange, and that reference was being made to some sort of universal matrix or substrate of all our existential experiences. Such reflective instrospections however, are only possible for a self-awareness that has matured sufficiently to be able to contemplate the abstractions. The chaotic complexity of our existential circumstances make the formulation of any sort of pragmatic operational statement a conceptual balancing act. It is not at all surprising, that if an attempt is made to make some sort of grand over-view generalization about all of existence, that the proposed formulation should turn out to be an almost impenetrable abstraction. In order to be in a position to propose such a generalization, it will have been a rite of preparation, that all possible existential configurations should have been investigated, and all possible modes of experience be undertaken. Ordinary practical gardeners, who do not normally have any access to mystical states of cosmic communion, will readily appreciate that such an undertaking is entirely impossible. The only pragmatic procedure therefore, is to examine the residues of as large an accumulation of experience as is possible, propose a generalization that is capable of accommodating all the encountered vicissitudes, and then spend what ever time remains in continuing to explore and search the cosmic environment for situations which do not support the proposal. From past experience however, any proposal whatever will need to be adjusted or even be rewritten sooner or later.
Although most individual awarenesses behave and interact with the universe/reality in an implicit manner that enhances survival, by virtue of (unconscious) models that reflect a consensus of remembered experience, nevertheless it still seems possible to formulate symbolic statements about the extrapolated reality, that whilst those concerned with specific detail may not survive the investigations of inquisition, various more general statements would seem to be always capable of verification. All the various oratorical and written theses which attempt to promote a particular existential perspective... usually classified under such labels as 'scientific', 'philosophical', 'religious', and so on... assume that the promoter's personal experiences can be 'simplified' by partitioning them into a variety of categories which are somehow (self-evidently) 'significant' and 'comprehensible' to themselves and to others.
When writing or speaking or signing about 'reality' therefore, one is inevitably obliged to make statements about existential experiences that can be readily authenticated by him/herself, and confirmed by other awarenesses participating in what must inevitably be accepted as a wider extrapolated 'reality'. Most of the topics on this website... for instance... are there because much has been lectured and written about each and every one of them, and that certain simplified intellectual partitions such as 'logic', 'truth', 'matter', 'mind', 'self', 'knowledge', 'space', 'time', 'cause', 'god', 'matter', and 'language'... have been assumed to be common core meaningful categories of human thought. Presuming to use symbolic language as some sort of axiomatic and acceptable aspect of the 'reality', before actually attempting to specify exactly what one is expected to understand by the concept, seems to inevitably invite a type of logical 'chicken and egg' dilemma into the proceedings. However, it is not a logical necessity that epistemology be governed by a necessity to adhere to sequential logic. A reality perspective need not be constructed by an unbroken and unfalsified chain of inferences and statements, from axioms thru to conclusions, but can be incrementally added to over time by the acceptance of multiple viewpoints into an overview that tolerates ambiguities, and can be adjusted progressively as evidence is presented. We can quite reasonably promise that symbolic languages will eventually be incorporated retrospectively into any 'reality' overview that we attempt to construct.
OBSERVABILITY of the COSMOS
Reality is observable, and is everything that an individual is able to detect and react to by means of the biological senses, enhanced by any consistently proven technologies that can provide perceptions beyond the limits of those basic sensory capabilities. The observational sensory-interaction of the individual awareness is the only credible process whereby it can acquire information and memories about its own immediate reality. There are no verifiable 'extra-sensory' or 'mystical' pathways to experiencing environmental 'realities'. Observable reality is what is detectable either directly by the senses... or indirectly via technological devices... and confirmed a sufficient number of times to satisfy the skeptical. No amount of speculation, modeling, mathematical extrapolation, religious enthusiasm, or psychiatric hallucinations is ever going to amount to being credible observable evidence. They may be elements of a specific idiosyncratic mental environment of a particular awareness but they are not publically observable elements of any sort of public source of experience and observation.
Before technologies, artifacts like spears, and axes, and clothes were simply not part of an observable reality. One can imagine and plan the construction of an implement like an axe, but such devices will not be part of observable reality until one is constructed and observed. 'Unicorns' do not become elements of 'reality' until they are observed. At any given moment of time, (like now for instance), observable reality will incorporate all the existing evidential elements...like electrons and quasars and bacteria... but not hypothetical speculations like gravitons, multidimensional universes, time travel, immortality, gods, faeries or Loch Ness monsters.
Every solitary awareness forms a unique model of their individual immediate reality, that is progressively modified and augmented over time as various consistent configurations and sequences seem to be determined in the chaos of the external existential environment. The core factor involved in the reality construction process... whereby the living entity attempts to extract and archive information from the sensory input... appears to be the search for, the recognition, and the storage of patterns. In many ways, this process is more or less what we understand by 'learning'.
To varying degrees of sophistication and complexity, all awarenesses create an interaction 'memory'-model of their own specific 'reality' and function on the assumption of an underlying consistency. 'Reality' is the unique psychic structure modeled progressively by an awareness as a consequence of sensory interactions with its existential environment, and 'memory' reconstructions of past events. In the case of humans in particular, communication technologies have the ability to extrapolate and enhance the sensory reality model so that it becomes a complex melange of direct experience and imaginative speculation. The reality model that an awareness constructs from all its input sources is what must count as 'reality' for that awareness. It is true that we feel obliged to assume that the model and the external universe are of course not the same, but as far as the individual is concerned, the model is in fact what the awareness must treat as its own personal reality.
Many of the observable features of the universe present as consistently reliable and predictable. Mass-energy is conserved. Periodicities define time. Elements... like Na(metal) and Cl(gas)... combine consistently into specific and repeatable configurations such as NaCl (salt). Entities like electrons and photons behave in consistently repeatable ways, whenever exactly the same existential circumstances are provided. Reality may initially appear chaotic, but predictable order and pattern seems to be eventually discoverable.
If the circumstances and conditions and time period are the same or comparable, then the results of the interactions will be either very similar or the same. Thus, if I look in a predefined specific place in the night sky, on a cloudless night, thru an optical instrument of adequate light-gathering capability, within the timeframe limitations of plus or minus a year or so, then I and anybody else who bothers to look, will observe a specific unique identifiable spiral galaxy called 'Andromeda'. On the other hand if I observe a bright object on one night, in that very same night sky, and then try to find the very same object the very next night, I might find that I cannot do so, because the object I observed the previous night was a fast-moving asteroid, and its two positions after 24hr might be dramatically different. Any awareness observing and interacting with the universe has to get used to the fact that it is changing continuously, and all entities inhabiting it have varying timescales of longevity. Anyone wanting to look at Jupiter thru a telescope will certainly be able to confirm its existence if you don't leave it for too many eons, but trying to observe the transit of Mercury across the face of the sun requires accurate anticipation and physical location... otherwise you won't see it. Similar considerations seem relevant, no matter what aspect the observable universe you may be interested in. Physics, microbiology, sociology, politics, oceanography, paleontology, etc,etc, We hopefully assume that the universe is consistent, and that it will behave in exactly the same way when all the circumstances and timescales are identical... but that in a nutshell is the problem...it never can be... the times will almost always be different for a start... For you, the transit of mercury was not a reality event, because you weren't at the right place at the right time. As well as the ever-present factor of the passage of time, there is the observable aspect of a universe that it is very complex and chaotic, and determining just exactly what matters or which events are intrinsically involved in any particular phenomenon of interest can be extraordinarily demanding. We may be able to satisfy ourselves that when hydrogen and oxygen are provided with relatively straightforward conditions, they will consistently interact and form water, but unraveling the stages and participants in the biochemical pathways that contribute the sustaining of life, takes resources and technology beyond the resources of individual awarenesses. We may be mystified as to why the earth's surface temperatures appear to be changing, or why certain malignant infections are spreading in a population, or even why house prices continue to rise in spite of regulatory attempts to keep them in check, but nevertheless, we are conceptually obliged to continue to assume, that if we can identify all of the relevant entities and influences, then a repeatable and consistent mode of behavior is describable and therefore...we presume... some form of intervention and control might be possible.
Although it is probable, that most individuals alive in the present era assume that everyone including themselves exists in the same 'reality', never-the-less, there are considerable differences between what each assumes to be its essential characteristics. For instance, countless millions of individuals still believe/assume that 'reality' was created by some sort of 'god' or 'gods', and that all events and entities are directly under the control of those deities. Innumerable others believe that 'reality' is populated by the countless 'spirits' and 'souls' of the dead, whilst significant numbers of scientists, whose whole research life has been predicated around one particular 'rational' perspective, end up being very reluctant indeed to recognize the significance of any recent experimentation that appears to contradict their life-long held convictions.
Whilst some consensus is in evidence as to what can be considered as self-evident and universal... about the existence of the sun, the necessity of food and water for life, and the delusions of opposition politicians, for example... it remains the case that the 'total reality' perspective of all existing living individuals, transmutes and changes continuously. One day there is no such entity as a 'virus' and the next day they are an all-pervasive 'reality', occupying every possible habitat and ecological niche. The concept of the 'expanding universe' is having its day in the sun... as it were... but sooner or later, someone will realize that 'expansion' is a concept that is used in the real world as a juxtaposition to 'non-expansion' and it is intellectually dishonest to gloss over the very real incomprehension, of those trying to imagine an 'inside' without an 'outside'.
Whatever grand abstractions are proposed about the nature of 'reality', they will inevitably be called into question by the skeptical, the ill-informed, the investigative, the passage of time, and open-minded meticulous experimentation.
The reality of each and every awareness is unique and idiosyncratic. A prisoner in a dungeon has a reality that would include thoughts and dreams, cold stone, bars, poor food, social isolation, cruel guards and so on, but would not include electrons, pop songs, space travel, galaxies or antique steam locomotives. A road-accident patient in an intensive-care hospital unit might regain consciousness and be faced with a reality of being immobilized by plaster casts, connected to intravenous and computerized monitoring equipment, and to be informed that they may never walk again. This is the essence of the meaning of the word when we use such phrases as "the person in question finally came to understand the reality of their situation." It is the word that is most often used as the polar opposite to such words as "dreams" and "fantasy". A forest-dwelling bird models a reality where there are other forest birds, trees, insects, nectar, rats and so on, but has no appreciation whatsoever of benthic oceans, moon craters, nuclear bombs, or diseases of the digestive tract. A microbe has its own interactive reality, but as far as we can determine at present, it is ever only a small microscopic subdivision of the cosmic totality.
Because we become so familiar with our own particular reality, we can easily drift uncritically towards entertaining the assumption that it is a reality that is the same for every other living thing...but that is very, very far from the case. Each individual, constructs its model from its own unique melange of circumstances of biology, environment, society, economy, housing, family, language, communication, intellect, physique, disease, war, climate, etc, and will thus be constrained by the limits of the immediate reality it has inherited. The immediate reality model of a deaf and blind child, born into an environment of poverty and civil-war, has very little in common with that of another child, born into affluence and diverse opportunities for education and medical support. The observable reality for one awareness may be substantially unrecognizable and incomprehensible to another.
In spite of a seeming consistency however, as a self-awareness interacts with its immediate reality it discovers that there is always a significant element of uncertainty. For a while, the sun seems to rise for certain once in any one 24 hour period... but that turns out not true at the poles, or on other planets. The nurturing entity you become very familiar with you assume is probably your mother... but that often turns out to be false. One is persuaded to believe in 'faeries' or 'god'... but only while every factor to the contrary is ignored or 'explained away' by improbable suppositions. Many believed that the continents and mountains were eternal and unchangeable... until plate tectonics, and erosion evidence was verified. In fact, all of one's initial general theories about existence only remain plausible while all the evidence to the contrary remains undiscovered or ignored. Every awareness will thereby experience a 'reality' that can never be exactly the same as any other. For some individuals , 'electrons' and 'photons' and 'dark matter' are part their every-day 'reality', but for others, 'goals', or 'concerts', or 'surf-beaches', or 'deafness', will be intrinsic to their unique appreciation of what is to be understood by 'reality'. In fact, some species are able to form reality models entirely unavailable to others, by developing specialized sensory organs that can detect phenomena beyond the comprehension of other life forms... like bats or electric eels... The extrapolated reality is the domain of communications and experimentation and confirmable extensions, that each awareness is able to explore in increasing detail. It is the domain of exploration and discovery, where individual awarenesses expand their own individual reality bubbles, and communicate their experiences to others to confirm and reinforce.
The SOLITARY MICROCOSM EXTRAPOLATED
Eventually, the solitary microcosm of one's personal private existential awareness supplies ample evidence for the existence of an extrapolated reality, wherein there appears to be a diversity of other awarenesses, which also appear to behave and interact in ways that are strikingly similar to your own. However, no individual is either able or inclined to attempt to experience all the possible or potential perspectives of the cosmic universe, but can only accumulate experiences in their memory and participate in a unique interaction with a range of aspects that the universe is capable of manifesting. By means of communication and research, we (humans) sometimes become involved in attempting to construct a synoptic model of 'everything', which can accommodate all the various evidential findings and experiences of individuals past and present, and label that hypothetical model 'Reality'. But this model can never be static or 'complete', because the process of checking its veracity and incorporating new discoveries ensures that it will continue to evolve for as long as we reflect upon its relevance. Physical phenomena will be attributed to this or that causative agent depending upon the state of scientific development or the religious speculations of the time. In fact we attribute 'existence' to a substantial portion of what we have only received indirect information about, without actually directly observing it ourselves... other countries... electrons... the centre of the earth... the Jurassic environment... the other side of the moon... Mars...
This extrapolation process is anything but reliable, and numerous examples abound that illustrate how the operational reality model of an awareness is unique, inadequate and often fatal. The swimmer cooling off in a picturesque water-hole, with a reality model that does not include alligators when in fact they are part of the ecosystem, is highly unlikely to survive. The tourists visiting a geothermal area, with a reality model that assures them that the volcano is dormant, even though it is not, could quite probably be seriously injured. The farmer purchasing a property after factoring high water-table levels and substantial rainfall into his operational model, will in all probability be ruined if in fact those assumptions were not justified. The phenomena of inadequate individual reality models is significant and widespread, and needs to be continuously and rigorously addressed at all stages during the life-cycle of the individual awareness. The learning process of creating a general synoptic reality model, normally continues by the actions and initiatives of making non-fatal errors.
Can a unique solitary awareness say anything sensible and verifiable about this existential totality... this universe... this cosmos... in which we find ourselves participating?
In the past, it has variously been asserted that it rides on the back of a giant turtle... or that it was created by one or more deities with omnipotent capabilities... or that it was created from some sort of 'singularity' of time and space, and is now in a state of eternal and unbounded expansion. Eventually however, none of these grand synoptic statements about what our cosmos actually is, seems to be able to remain unfalsified, under the persistent scrutiny of verifiable observation and scrupulous epistemological justification. We have discovered that many phenomena that we observe can be modeled in a mathematical manner, provided that we simplify the situations and ignore anything that is inconvenient... but asserting that 'the universe is mathematical' becomes increasingly unjustifiable, in spite of a seemingly bottomless font of human symbolic ingenuity. We think we have discovered 'atoms'... and so can claim that the cosmos is made up of fundamental atomic particles... only to eventually be able to find a way to disintegrate them into even smaller entities. We think we have uncovered the nature of life itself, when the helical structures of DNA and RNA are shown to be implicated essentially in the replication of all biological entities, only to be continually taken aback by the subtlety and complexity that continues to enform the genetic material with unexpected surprises.
Can we sensibly then assert anything at all, in the face of the seemingly endless manifestations of infinite variability and originality?
We may not be able to ever say definitively and indisputably what reality 'is', but we can state in general terms...from observable and verified experience... what awarenesses will discover, and what the characteristics of any interaction might reasonably be expected... about how this universe behaves and interacts with us, how it has behaved in the past, and how it may well behave in the future. For instance, amidst all the appearance of extreme variation and difference, it seems that one of the most obvious and predictable certainties that most self-awarenesses have come to realize, is that the immediate reality of every individual awareness is transient and only exists while the living entity generating it remains alive. There is no verifiable evidence for disembodied realities persisting after the entities responsible for them have ceased to exist.
It seems evident therefore, that any sort of unquestionable synoptic understanding as to what 'reality' actually is, is an aspiration that is beyond the capacity of any one solitary sensory awareness... or indeed any co-ordinated group of 'like-minded' individuals. As much as this statement appears to signal abandoning any investigation as a preordained impossibility, it is never-the less the situation we appear to find ourselves immersed in, if we choose to reflect upon the archives of historical records. Before human civilizations evolved, any statements made by prehistorical individuals about 'reality', would not have taken account of galaxies, fossils or nuclear power. Before the scientific era, statements about 'reality' made by various philosophers, gurus, and mystics, were constructed without any knowledge whatsoever of microbes, electromagnetic radiation and chemical elements. Today, as various hitherto unknown physical structures or phenomena... like quarks, viruses,'dark matter' and fermi bubbles... are discovered and added to the existential database, we are more and more inclined to extrapolate into the future and be resigned to the situation that an absolute statement about the totality of what constitutes an accurate inventory of 'reality' is beyond any final formulation.
We can all describe our own personal private perceptions of reality to others, and reflect in turn upon the significance of their own private realities...if they choose to attempt to describe them to us... but any individual or group that imagines they can promote a synoptic and universal comprehension of the cosmos is indulging in an arrogant exercise in futility.